Could Eagles end 41-year linebacker drought?


Could this be the year it ends? Could this be the year the Eagles finally draft a linebacker in the first round?

Probably not. But it’s honestly not that far-fetched.

By now, most fans know the Eagles' last 1st-round linebacker was Jerry Robinson in 1979. Robinson went on to have a fine 13-year career, including six years and one Pro Bowl with the Eagles.

In the 41 years since, 135 linebackers have been drafted in the first round, from Hall of Famers Junior Seau, Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks, Lawrence Taylor, Brian Urlacher and Derrick Thomas to Billy Cannon, Craig Powell and Huey Richardson, who never started a single NFL game.

Every other NFL team has taken at least two 1st-round linebackers since the Eagles took Robinson.

The Eagles had their chances. They took Mike Mamula 21 spots before Brooks in 1995 and Jermane Mayberry a pick ahead of Lewis one year later.

And they’ve drafted plenty in the second round – eight of them since 1980, ranging from decent (Mychal Kendricks) to mediocre (James Darling, Barry Gardner) to awful (Quinton Caver, Matt McCoy, Jessie Small, Jody Schultz).

The closest they’ve come to taking a linebacker in the first round was Gardner at No. 35 in 1999, the fourth pick of the second round.

Which brings us to this year. Micah Parsons.

How good would this dude look in an Eagles uniform?

The Penn State prospect will most likely be available at No. 12, and the Eagles could certainly use a stud linebacker.

T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton are high-effort guys, both undrafted. But the Eagles need a stud, and Parsons is a flat-out stud.

“The ability to do everything,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said when asked what he likes about Parsons. “As impressive as his range and instincts are against the run, to me it's what he does in coverage. You see him cover tight ends up there at Penn State. You see him cover backs. … He would fit in with that versatility that everybody is looking for.”

Everybody? Maybe not quite everybody.

Howie Roseman spoke at the Combine last year and while he didn't come right out and say the Eagles don’t value linebackers when it comes to allocating resources, he sure hinted at it.

“You have a limited number of resources, whether it’s draft picks and money, we talk about it all the time,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out, what are your priorities? What are the things you decide you have to have? And then there are things you’d like to have or want to have.”

But there is reason to believe this year could be different.

Consider new Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.

He spent 2014 through 2017 with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, and we know how much Zimmer values linebackers. The Vikings drafted Anthony Barr 9th overall in 2014, and he’s made four Pro Bowls since and they took another Pro Bowl linebacker, Eric Kendricks, Mychal’s brother, in the second round a year later.

Then Gannon spent three years with the Colts, who’ve taken four linebackers in the first three rounds in the last three drafts, including two-time all-pro Darius Leonard.

The Vikings under Zimmer and the Colts under Matt Eberflus are schemes where linebackers are valued, and that's how Gannon was raised in the NFL. That's all he knows.

It’s hard to know how much weight Gannon’s voice carries in the Eagles’ draft room. He’s not Jim Schwartz, who had been a defensive coordinator for two teams and a head coach before he got here and had a strong say in personnel.

He’s a first-time defensive coordinator in his first year with a new team. And we still don’t know exactly what sort of defense Gannon will run. He hasn’t spoken to the Philly media yet. But you would expect a guy who learned under Zimmer and Eberflus to value linebackers.

And it’s possible to imagine a scenario where Gannon, coming off four years with Barr and three years with Leonard, is able to express the importance of linebackers in his scheme.

And with a potential star sitting there at No. 12, it’s possible to imagine the Eagles taking Parsons and ending that 41-year 1st-round linebacker drought.

Is it likely? Nope.

It still seems the Eagles are most likely to take a corner at 12. Or a receiver or even a tackle.

But you never know. It may be a longshot but it’s a longshot that makes a lot of sense.

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